McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Directed by Robert Altman
A gambler and a prostitute become business partners in a remote Old West mining town, and their enterprise thrives until a large corporation arrives on the scene.
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★★★★★ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
the house always wins, of course, the trouble is that you don't own it anymore by the time it does.
one of the best, most lucidly despairing movies ever made. not to downplay its inquiry into the cold heart of capitalism, but this would make for a great opiate triple feature alongside House of Pleasures and The Flowers of Shanghai, in case you want to drown in orange and not move for 8 hours (and who wouldn't?).
i watched it by the flickering light of a fire on christmas eve and achieved such nirvana that i saw the face of santa, himself. i suggest you try it, sometime. incidentally, leonard cohen makes for great christmas morning music.
★★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
Third viewing, but a more general assessment will have to wait for round four, because I'm writing this less than a week after Leonard Cohen died and Trump was elected. Which means that all I can think about right now are (a) "The Stranger Song" accompanying wintry shots of horseback riders, and (b) McCabe listening, petrified, as his attorney confidently outlines the legal mechanisms that ostensibly protect him, and explains why absolute trust in those mechanisms is well justified.
"Now you take that there company, Harrison & Shaughnessy. They have stockholders. Do you think they want their stockholders, and the public, thinking that their management isn't imbued with all the principles of fair play and justice? The very values that make this country what it is today? Bustin' up these trusts and monopolies is at the very root of the problem of creating a just society. Dammit, McCabe, I'm here to tell you that this free enterprise system of ours works. And working within it, we can protect the small businessman and the big businessman."
"Well, I just didn't, uh...didn't want to get killed."
May we have a happier ending.
★★★★½ review by Justin Peterson on Letterboxd
Criterion Collection Spine #827
The most unique western I have ever seen may now be among my favorites of the genre.
It was about time I got back to watching another Robert Altman movie, I really enjoyed his authentic depiction of the gritty American frontier of the pacific northwest.
I started watching the movie and thought to myself, what the hell are they talking about? O yea, Altman gives his films this realistic layered audio experience, so I actually switched from my surround sound speakers to listening to the film on my blu tooth headphones in order to listen in more closely.
My next thought was wow does this movie look rough, and turns out it is supposed to be. To further enhance the gritty setting of the film Altman used a technique called flashing it in order degrade the picture quality and give it a withered look. It looks really bad in a few scenes where the sky looks all blown out and over exposed, but for the most part it works really well to immerse you into what life is like in the little town of Presbyterian Church. You will notice the wooden walls of the buildings are really dark which give all the interior scenes this confined yet comfortable feel just like McCabe's strikingly massive brown fur coat.
But thankfully not all the film is degraded, because there are some dazzling gorgeous wilderness skyline shots like the one with the sun during the magic hour and steeple of the town's church.
I had no idea what the story was going in, and for awhile I wondered if it was going anywhere. But thankfully there is a great payoff at the end that pushed me to give this and extra half star in my rating. So the story follows a unusual western protagonist named John McCabe played by the great Warren Beatty. McCabe is a business man who decides to open a bar and brothel. But McCabe is a big picture guy, and his business is taken to a whole new level when Mrs. Miller comes into the picture and says with some upgrades she will start helping him make some serious money on the brothel by managing all the little details. And sure enough before they know it the business is a major success, which draws the attention of big mining company that wants to buy them out.
I just loved the look of the mountain town that Altman was actually able to visually capture it growing as the movie went along, because apparently they were still building it during the filing process. I especially liked all the rope bridges, and there is a scene on one of the bridges that changes the whole dynamic of the plot at the movie heads into the climax. Up to this point everyone has been peaceful in the town, but there is a scene where this happy go lucky cowboy is ruthlessly gunned down that just tore my heart out.
McCabe is not really the gun fighting type, which makes the climax so engaging by how he has to maneuver thru the situation. This whole sequence takes place in a snow storm which I was absolutely delighted to see since I love snow. I heard some reviewers say there was an snow special effect used that they thought looked bad, but I thought the whole sequence looked great. That big bear hunter character is especially interesting with how he is able to make McCabe so nervous by his simple questioning.
With Altman doing the western genre this much justice I really need to move some his smaller movies to the top of my list like '3 Women'.
I did not pick up on this until I started listening to some reviews of the film, but one of the signature elements of Mrs. Miller's character is that she is addicted to smoking opium. The final scene is actually her smoking in an opium den, as McCabe bleeds to death out in the snow. It is a bit of a downer ending, but likely realistic when considering what it must have been like living and doing business in the west during that period of history.
- Daniel Plainview
Happy movie watching ... SKOL!
★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
McCabe & Mrs. Miller, right from the chilly opening, is a detached and aching odyssey into ambition and transactions. Never have negotiations and subsequent character shifts looked so gorgeously alive and lived-in. It's a film that is drenched and buried within varied amounts of rain, mud, and snow, and the only shelter lies in the orange hues of saloons and crammed hotels. Before viewing, I read that it was a dismantling of the Western genre, but as always, Altman subverts expectations in profoundly delightful fashion.
It's as if Altman wanted to craft a sorrowful poem for all these settlers and gamblers and prostitutes and gunfighters, and even if it's too late, sometimes it's worth trying anyway. Not an ode to the West, but an ode to the travelers who are trying to find what was promised. Certainly a film that I will appreciate more and more with every rewatch.
★★★★★ review by Michael Stuhlman on Letterboxd
Been a little while since I awarded 5 stars to a first time view, but I can think of no other score worthy of a film as near perfection as McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Simultaneously a western and anti-western (I know it's paradoxical), this is one of the saddest films I've seen in quite a while. Two outstanding lead performances, a pitch perfect script and some lovely cinematography make this one to remember. Certainly in my top 5 of the genre.
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